Tzvi Graetz

Insults and injury at Western Wall

Barring the Women of the Wall is an outrageous insult and it's also unwise

The ridiculous assumption that women praying at the Western Wall with tallitot are trying to mimic men cuts me right to the core. What kind of chutzpah does it take to say that any woman’s prayer and spirituality is not authentic?

The fact that the Israeli police are involved in this matter is a complete waste of time, resources and Israeli tax-payers’ money. Are there not more pressing issues in Israeli civil society that the police should be focusing on rather than searching the bags of female visitors to the Kotel in the hope of finding and arresting women carrying tallitot?

The many people who are involved in trying to find a solution to this problem take the view that they are trying to give equal weight to the needs of the Haredim praying at the wall and the Woman of the Wall. It is a mistake to compare the two groups, and the comparison is both offensive and arrogant. One group is women who come to pray, to praise and thank God in peaceful assembly. The other, is a small but violent group who sometimes throw chairs and even dirty diapers, and sometimes spit upon men and women to prevent them from praying in a way that they think is wrong. 

And another insult: How is it possible that the Western Wall, which belongs to all of Israel, is under the control of a Haredi approach (with the state’s help!) and that public funds given to the Western Wall Heritage Foundation allow the Kotel to be managed as if it is a Haredi synagogue? This is a grave offense, not just to Women of the Wall, but to all of the other many Jewish traditions and communities that are excluded from sharing this national heritage site.

Adding insult to injury, the monthly minyanim of the Women of the Wall are seen as a provocation against the idea that women should not participate in religion in the public sphere. They should be neither seen nor heard. Women can be members of the Knesset (which in this last election reached a record of 26 female members!); they can be judges and teachers, but not lead services at their section of the wall which is already separated from the men. A woman is free to take part in the democratic process, but cannot be called up for an aliyah to the Torah and cannot put on a tallit or tzizit in public. What a nerve and what an affront to the entire Jewish community and to democracy.

In the Talmud (which even non-Haredi Jews are allowed to open and study) it clearly states that everyone is bound by the mitzvah of wearing tzitzit, everyone including women. There is one Rabbi who releases women from this obligation but he is in the minority opinion. Even he, by the way, does not forbid women from wearing a tallit/tzizit but only says that they do not have an obligation. The Rabbis in the Talmud state that women are indeed obligated to fulfill the commandment of wearing tzizit.

What a loss to our beautiful faith to silence its many voices. To have a Judaism of black hats and women sitting silently at the back of the sanctuary with no opportunities to participate in the richness of ritual life in the synagogue is sad, shameful and outrageous.

The Kotel belongs to the entire people of Israe: Am Yisrael. We have heard that saying many times before, but what does it actually mean? Who is Am Yisrael? What is this thing that everyone owns? The Kotel does belong to everyone because it is the sole survivor of the destroyed Second Temple, which is a central symbol for all Jews of our belief and our shared history. Do not millions of Jews, including Reform and Conservative ones, turn to face the direction of the Kotel in Jerusalem as they pray – whether they are in Buenos Aires, Chicago or London?

This week, several Reform and Conservative/Masorti Rabbis were arrested by the Israel Police. The average Israeli may laugh at these women, and the supposed ridiculousness of them wanting to pray at the Kotel like men, but they need to know that these Rabbis are the leaders of thousands of men and women around the world – people who are watching very carefully to see what is happening to those who represent them and their Jewish communities. Among the congregations of the rabbis who were arrested are Senators, businessmen involved in shaping the world economy, doctors who discover drugs that save lives and physicists and mathematicians who have won Nobel Prizes. All of these people are Jews. Also in the pews of the arrested rabbis are directors of Israel lobbying groups who work day and night to ensure that the State of Israel continues to receive the unequivocal support of the United States. There are also congregants who provide significant philanthropic support for hospitals, schools and charities in Israel. It is unwise to insult these Jews and the leaders who represent them by exclusion and forceful removal from a place that belongs to everyone.

The Women of the Wall are trailblazers like the many women who have come before them. They are returning (yes, returning not bringing) the voices of women like Deborah the Judge, Yael the warrior, Miriam the Prophetess, Esther the Courageous and the other many women who stand on the central stage of Judaism and its history. And they are doing it only one minute before the window of opportunity for a sane and moderate Judaism closes.

About the Author
Rabbi Tzvi Graetz, is the former Executive Director of Masorti Olami & MERCAZ Olami. He serves on the board of JNF Israel as chair of the environment and sustainability committee and he is a fellow in the Beit Midrash for Israeli Rabbis, a joint program run by the Shalom Hartman Institute and HaMidrasha at Oranim. Rabbi Graetz was born in Israel and is a second generation Masorti (Conservative) Jew who has spent his career working to build and promote Israel’s Masorti Institutions in order to enhance religious pluralism. Rabbi Graetz spent four years as the spiritual leader of Kehilat Shevet Achim in Gilo, Jerusalem and as rabbi of the TALI Gilo School. He has served as Director of the NOAM youth movement and Camp Ramah NOAM, and also spent time in the USA as a shaliach of the Jewish Agency and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.
Related Topics
Related Posts